Todd Mason, editor of Louisiana Sportsman Magazine, 
describes the construction of a Chapman Louisiana pirogue:

Louisiana Sportsman Magazine

Louisiana Pirogues

The Making of a Pirogue
by Todd Masson

I worked for him for about a year. The first two weeks I worked for free to prove to him that I was interested in it and could do it. I learned to build Lafitte skiffs and sailboats.

My wife, (Margaret), was working as a teacher and I was able to sell a few pirogues, so we made ends meet.” “After about a year, I went into my own business building pirogues.

Follow Ron Chapman through the construction of a boat that is Louisiana to the core.
I
t’s a piece of equipment that is absolutely essential to a Louis- iana duck hunter, but mention the word to someone from another state and watch the hollow stares as gears click in the poor soul’s head.

“I’d never go hunting without my pirogue,” you say. This guy is crazy.  What is he talking about? You know they are thinking.

But the fact of the matter is, duck hunting in Louisiana without a pirogue is like water skiing without a rope, or picnicking without a blanket, or skydiving without a parachute. O.K., maybe its not that bad, but t is darn near required gear.

The marshes of Louisiana, especially those in the southeastern and south-central portions of the state, require some sort of very shallow-draft boat to reach the glorified puddles that dabbling ducks feast in during the fall and winter months in the state.

Hunters in other states make do with canoes, but that’s not an option here.

“Anybody who’s done any amount of duck hunting knows that you can’t get into those marshes with a canoe” said Ron Chapman, owner of Ron Chapman, Shipwright, Inc., pirogue production company in Chalmette, Louisiana.

And that’s just fine with him. Chapman sells finely detailed, high-quality canoes, but his specialty is pirogues. His three-man, one-woman outfit manufactures and sells over 600 pirogues a year, the vast majority here in the Bayou State.

“We’ve been selling a few out of state, especially since we’ve gotten our web site: (pirogue.com), but mostly we sell to local customers. They know us. Our dealers say that people come into the store and ask for our pirogues by name. That makes you feel good,” he said.

Chapman doesn’t get to duck hunt much himself, since the time of greatest demand for his product is, or course, during duck season.”

“I get plenty of offers but I can’t ever take people up on them,” he said.

Chapman began building boats 23 years ago, after graduating from the University of New Orleans with a graduate degree in History.

“I couldn’t get a job, so I decided I was going to build my own boat and sail it around the world,” he said. “ I knew absolutely nothing about building boats. So I hooked up with Dave Sintes, who is the best boat-builder around, and I worked for him for about a year. The first two weeks I worked for free to prove to him that I was interested in it and could do it. I learned to build Lafitte skiffs and sailboats.  


 

Chapman's Handicraft: 
  The 20-Step Pirogue Process

“I build my own molds and at first made only the one man pirogue. Chapman still makes those one-man 'rogues today. He calls them “Copperheads.”

He also makes a two-man (Cotton- mouth), a guide boat (King) and a flatback that can accommodate a small motor (Mudbug).

There is not much to a pirogue, which, of course, is the idea. They are supposed to be light and easy to maneuver under tough situations in a duck marsh. But building one is an arduous There is not much to a pirogue, which, of course, is the idea. They are supposed to be light and easy to maneuver under tough situations in a duck marsh. But building one is an arduous process, especially for Chapman and his crew Les Osmer and Michael Gadonneix, since they handcraft all Chapman-Shipwright pirogues.

“Most pirogues today are made with chopper guns, which make the pirogues weaker and it also makes them heavier because it wastes a lot of resin. When you hand-lay them, you can control all of that,” Chapman said.

The first step in the process is to spray the molds with polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), which allow the pirogues to be easily released form the molds.

When the PVA dries, the mold is covered with gelcoat, which will form the outer shell of the pirogue and give it its color.

After the gelcoat has hardened, Chapman and crew top it with layers of matte and woven roven fiberglass, then a layer of Spirotex® followed by a finishing matte.  Then handles, tow holes, and flotation seats are then added and covered with fiberglass mattes and woven rovens and the whole thing is covered, by hand, with noxious-smelling polyester resin. 

After an hour or so, the edges of the fiberglass mattes are wet-trimmed off, and everything is allowed to harden over night.

The next day, Osmer and Gadonneix pop the pirogues from the molds using wedges, and the small boats are then ground, sanded, covered with an interior gel-coat, then splattered (which gives them a camo look).

They are then placed in the sun to dry before the last steps of affixing the cypress gunwales and finishing end caps.

They range in price from $300- $425. Chapman sells his pirogues through local and national dealers, and they range in price from $300 to $425, depending upon the model chosen.

“People from across the country are just now starting to realize what great boats pirogues are,” Chapman said. “They can buy a pirogue from me for under $500 including shipping and that’s a lot cheaper than they can get a canoe for, and it works better for them.”

But you probably still can’t expect people from other states to know what you’re talking about when mention the word.


 

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